- The Origins of Popular Sovereignty
- The Spread of Slavery
- The Election of 1854
- The Violence in Kansas
- The Aftermath of Violence
This blog post will explore how the principle of popular sovereignty led to violence in Kansas during the 1850s. We’ll examine the competing claims of pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces and how these claims led to bloody conflict in the Kansas Territory.
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The Origins of Popular Sovereignty
The idea of Popular Sovereignty was first proposed in the early 1800s as a way to settle the issue of slavery. The idea was that each state would get to decide for itself whether or not to allow slavery. This would be done through a vote of the people in each state. The problem with this plan was that it led to violence and division, as we will see in the example of Kansas.
The Missouri Compromise
In 1820, Missouri applied for statehood as a slave state. This upset the precarious balance between free and slave states in the Senate, and so Missiouri’s admission was blocked by northern legislators. In response, southerners proposed that each new state admitted to the Union would be a slave state. This led to an impasse in Congress that was only resolved by the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
The Missouri Compromise allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state, but prohibited slavery in the rest of the northern Louisiana Purchase territory. This territory included the future states of Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and parts of Montana and Wyoming. In addition, the Compromise prohibited slavery in any future territories north of latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes—the southern border of Missouri.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act
In May 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The act was a victory for those who favored “popular sovereignty”—the idea that the people who lived in a territory should decide whether or not it would permit slavery.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was also a victory for Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, who wanted to build a transcontinental railroad through his state. To win southern support for the railroad, Douglas agreed to allow voters in Kansas and Nebraska to choose whether or not they wanted slavery.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act led to violence in the new territory of Kansas. Pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers rushed into Kansas, hoping to influence the outcome of the vote on slavery. In May 1856, pro-slavery activists attacked an anti-slavery settlement at Lawrence, Kansas. The violence continued for several years and came to be known as “Bleeding Kansas.”
The Spread of Slavery
In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act overturned the Missouri Compromise, opening up new territories to slavery. This led to a rise in violence as pro-slavery and anti-slavery activists battled for control of Kansas. The situation came to a head in the fall of 1855, when proslavery activists sacked the town of Lawrence, Kansas. This violence continued until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
The Proslavery Argument
The proslavery argument was based on the idea that slavery was a “positive good” and that it was sanctioned by the Bible. Proponents of this argument argued that slavery was beneficial for both slaves and slave owners, and that it was an important part of the Southern economy. The proslavery argument also claimed that white people were superior to black people, and that slaves were better off under the care of white people.
Many Americans in the North found the proslavery argument to be unconvincing, and it ultimately led to increased tensions between the North and South. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed for popular sovereignty in these new territories, led to violence in Kansas as pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers fought for control. This violence eventually led to the Civil War.
The Free Soil Argument
Arguing that slavery was bad for both white and black Americans, Free Soilers claimed that keeping blacks enslaved prevented whites from achieving their birthright of freedom. Denouncing the spread of slavery as a national crime, they insisted that none but Congress had the right to prohibit its expansion into federal territories. unwilling to compromise on the issue, Northerners and Southerners alike became increasingly polarized in the 1850s.
With the presidential election of 1856, pro-slavery forces again turned to violence to assert their claims in Kansas. This time, however, it was Northerners who answered with force. Angered by the sack of Lawrence and the murder of several Free Soilers, Northerners organized militias and sent them streaming into Kansas.
The result was a mini-civil war, often called “Bleeding Kansas.” Its most famous episode occurred on May 21, 1856, when Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was caned nearly to death on the floor of the Senate by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina after Sumner had given a scathing speech denouncing slavery and its defenders.
The Election of 1854
The election of 1854 was a highly divisive event that led to violence in Kansas. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 had repealed the Missouri Compromise, which had prohibited slavery in Kansas. The act had allowed each state to decide whether or not to allow slavery within their borders. This led to a lot of tension between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in Kansas.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act
In May 1854, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The bill organized the western territories of Nebraska and Kansas and included a provision for popular sovereignty, which would allow settlers in those territories to choose whether or not to allow slavery. The bill passed despite significant opposition, and violence soon erupted in Kansas as pro- and antislavery groups rushed into the territory to influence the outcome of the vote on slavery.
The election of 1854 was a critical moment in the history of the United States. In May of that year, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois introduced a bill that would soon become known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The bill organized the western territories of Nebraska and Kansas and included a provision for popular sovereignty, which would allow settlers in those territories to choose whether or not to allow slavery.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was highly controversial, and it sparked a heated debate in Congress. Some members of Congress opposed it because they believed it would lead to the spread of slavery into new areas, while others supported it because they believed it would help preserve the balance between slave and free states. In the end, the bill passed by a narrow margin, and it became law in July 1854.
As soon as the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law, pro- and antislavery groups rushed into Kansas to influence the outcome of the vote on slavery. Violence soon erupted, as both sides resorted to intimidation, vandalism, and even murder to advance their cause. The violence continued for years, until finally, in 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state.
The Kansas Constitution
The Kansas Constitution was drafted in 1855 by a constitutional convention in Topeka. The document was approved by the territorial legislature, but it was never ratified by the U.S. Congress. The constitution was notable for its inclusion of a clause that asserted that all men, regardless of race, were equal before the law. This clause was added to the constitution in an effort to pre-empt any attempt by the territorial legislature to pass laws that would discriminate against African Americans.
In addition to the equal protection clause, the Kansas Constitution also included a provision known as “popular sovereignty.” This provision stated that the people of Kansas would have the right to determine for themselves whether or not slavery would be permitted within the state’s borders. This provision was included in an effort to appease both pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions within the territory.
Unfortunately, popular sovereignty would ultimately lead to violence in Kansas. In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and allowed residents of those territories to decide for themselves whether or not slavery would be permitted within their borders. This act effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise, which had prohibited slavery in any territory west of Missouri.
When news of the Kansas-Nebraska Act reached Kansas, thousands of pro-slavery settlers from Missouri poured into the territory in an effort to ensure that it became a slave state. These settlers were opposed by anti-slavery settlers from New England who also flooded into Kansas. The resulting conflict between these two groups led to violence and ultimately resulted in Kansas being admitted to the Union as a slave state.
The Violence in Kansas
In the 1850s, the question of whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state ignited a firestorm of violence. The debate over slavery had intensified with the introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed settlers in those territories to decide for themselves whether or not slavery would be legal. The Act led to the formation of two governments in Kansas, each claiming legitimacy.
The Sack of Lawrence
On May 21, 1856, a group of pro-slavery activists, calling themselves the “National Democrats,” sacked the town of Lawrence, Kansas in response to the violence that had been brewing there for months. The town had been founded by anti-slavery activists and was a stronghold of the free state movement. The sack of Lawrence was a turning point in the conflict over slavery in Kansas and helped lead to the outbreak of the Civil War.
The Pottawatomie Massacre
On May 24, 1856, a group of proslavery supporters led by Colonel Lewis Sherman hacked and stabbed five unarmed abolitionists to death in Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas. The massacre was in response to the antislavery Lawrence raid, during which proslavery settlers destroyed several businesses in the town of Lawrence. The violence continued throughout the summer, as proslavery and antislavery groups fought for control of Kansas. In October 1856, a Congressional investigation led by Senator James Mason of Virginia concluded that the violence was the result of “popular sovereignty,” a doctrine that allowed settlers to determine whether their territory would be slave or free.
The Aftermath of Violence
After the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854, the idea of popular sovereignty- the right of the people to decide a territory’s status on slavery- led to an influx of proslavery and antislavery settlers to Kansas. This, in turn, led to violence between the two groups as each fought for control of the territory. The violence culminated in the sack of Lawrence in May of 1856 and the Pottawatomie Massacre in May-June of 1856. In the wake of this violence, many questioned the idea of popular sovereignty and whether it was a viable option for the future of the United States.
The Lecompton Constitution
The Lecompton Constitution was a pro-slavery constitution drafted in 1857 to make Kansas a slave state. The constitution was strongly opposed by antislavery forces, who argued that it violated the principles of popular sovereignty and minority rights. The ensuing conflict over the constitution led to violence in Kansas, which became known as “Bleeding Kansas.” Ultimately, the Lecompton Constitution was rejected by the people of Kansas, and the state was admitted to the Union as a free state.
The Dred Scott Decision
In 1857, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Dred Scott case, which had profound implications for the future of the nation. The Court ruled that African Americans could not be citizens of the United States and that Congress had no authority to ban slavery in federal territories. The decision was a victory for southern slaveholders and a blow to northern abolitionists. It also increased tensions between the North and South, which would eventually lead to Civil War.